For leaders of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the mammoth crowd at their party’s kickoff of its 2019 presidential campaign in Sokoto on Monday, 3 December was another evidence that their dream of regaining the presidency they lost to the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC in 2015 was realizable after all. For the opposition party, the choice of a city in the Northwest for the beginning of its presidential campaign itself is unarguably a strategic decision designed to test the acceptability of its candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in a zone considered to be the main stronghold of Muhammadu Buhari, the incumbent president who will also run for a second tenure in 2019.
Both men who are regarded as the main contenders for the presidency in the field of 73 candidates that will be on the ballot during February’s presidential poll share ethnic, religious and regional origins, which are crucial factors of identity in Nigerian politics.
But while the PDP presidential candidate is from Adamawa State in the Northeast, President Buhari is from Katsina in the Northwest part of Nigeria. The Northwest region with seven states is the region with the highest number of votes in Nigeria. President Buhari had, since he started contesting for the presidency in 2003, won in most of the states of the region, though he didn’t clinch the presidency until 2015. Festus Keyamo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria who is also the spokesperson of the President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation told this magazine that the 19 million votes in the Northwest are on ‘locked down’ for his principal ahead of the 2019 presidential election when he was asked if APC leaders are jittery over the reception of Atiku in the region.
Indeed, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, believed to be one of the closest APC members to President Buhari, had alleged that most of the people at the PDP rally were Nigeriens. Expectedly, the PDP said the “mammoth crowd of supporters” at the rally was a clear demonstration that “Nigerians, across the board, have reached a consensus to vote Atiku in as the next president of our country,” in a statement by its spokesperson, Kola Ologbondiyan. “The massive reception expresses the confidence of the North-West in Atiku Abubakar’s proven pro-poor stance; his standing affinity with the down-trodden and his demonstrated competence, capacity and political will to revamp our economy, end starvation, sectional acrimony, human rights abuse and humongous corruption, which the Buhari administration has unleashed on our nation in the last three and half years,” Ologbondiyan said in a statement released few days after the rally.
TheNEWS cover, January 2019 edition
Further rubbing it in and in response to the ‘Nigeriens’ claim of El-Rufai, Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, said the success of the PDP’s North West rally was instilling fear in the minds of his Kaduna State counterpart and his cohorts. The governor described the rally as “the final burial of APC government in the North West and Nigeria in general,” in a statement by his Special Adviser on Public Enlightenment and Mobilisation, Akibu Dalhatu. Tambuwal vowed to defeat APC and deliver the entire North West to PDP in 2019.
Atiku Versus Buhari
Buhari and Atiku
For 72-year old Atiku, who was Nigeria’s vice president from 1999 to 2007, the 2019 general election will perhaps mark the last attempt in his efforts to lead Nigeria principally on account of his age. The retired officer of the Nigerian Customs Service began his political journey when he contested to become the governor of the defunct Gongola State (now Adamawa and Taraba States) in 1991. He however began his bid to rule Nigeria when he contested for the presidential ticket of the defunct Social Democratic Party alongside the late MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe in the party’s primaries 1993. Atiku came third in the primary. On return of Nigeria to democracy, Atiku contested for and was elected the governor of his home state of Adamawa in 1998 on the platform of PDP.
However, he was chosen as the running mate of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the PDP candidate in 1999 presidential election before he could assume office as governor. Obasanjo and Atiku were elected as Nigeria’s president and vice president on 29 May, 1999. But it was generally believed that even as Obasanjo’s deputy, Atiku’s focus was on the presidency. For one, the retired Customs officer has confirmed the rumours that there were pressures on him to break away as vice president to contest for the presidential ticket of PDP against Obasanjo in 2003. Though he did not push it through, the presidential ambition was believed to be at the root of Atiku’s acrimonious relationship with his retired military General boss in the second term of their presidency. Obasanjo subsequently tried to stop his vice president from succeeding him over allegations that he was corrupt.
Atiku will however tell anyone who cares to listen that he incurred the wrath of the former President because of his opposition to Obasanjo’s third term agenda. Towards the 2007 presidential election, Atiku defected to the then opposition Action Congress and got the presidential ticket of the party. Nevertheless, an investigative panel set up by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC which was believed to be working at the behest of the President indicted Atiku for corruption and the then Maurice Iwu -led Independent National Electoral Election, INEC subsequently disqualified him.